Sunshine has hit Chinatown in more ways than just the weather. Last fall delivered a startling loss with the closure of Raw Sugar, but last week Bar Robo opened its doors to save the people of Chinatown from caffeine and liquor loss. Bar Robo takes the physical place of Raw Sugar, but that’s the last you’ll hear of comparisons between the two. Everything from the interior to the intention has been transformed into something different from anything else in the area.
The building has been shrouded in mystery for the past few weeks, and the public was offered brief glimpses of what was going on behind closed doors via social media. Slowly the paper came down off the windows, and Bar Robo was revealed to Somerset. Bar Robo is more than just a local cafe and cocktail joint, it’s a place that someone can work by day and take in some live music by night; grab a coffee on their way to work and stop by for a drink with friends on the way back.
In addition to cocktails and fancy snack food, which we’ll get to in a second, the bar will also have live music put on by Ottawa Showbox, who have been collaborating with other local organizers like Debaser. “We’re going to be putting on shows at least once a month through Showbox, and Bar Robo has been very kind to accommodate us and make it easy for us to make these shows happen.”
Showbox’s Matías Muñoz says, “Right now we’re just in the planning stages and getting the place off the ground. Debaser has booked the first show on May 21 – Denver post-pop band Homebody, along with Brave Radar, Whimm, and Telecomo are playing the inaugural concert.”
Showbox has also made an effort to make a large amount of these shows all ages so that younger audiences interested in learning the ropes of the music scene have a better chance to get involved. “This is a huge community-building aspect to the venue, as the next generation of Ottawa’s music community is in their hands. It feels good to be a part of that and help make it easier for those young new acts to grow.” Muñoz says, adding “We have a good arrangement with them and we’re really excited to start.”
The acoustics of the building are already great, and the stage set up has been renovated to include a huge Lisbon Grocery and Smoke Shop sign that was removed from a building via a small crane. The sign had been a staple in the neighbourhood for years, but the shop had long since been a Lisbon’s and was never lit. Its removal and reinstallation on the stage can be seen on the @barrobo Instagram page.
Other old signs and subdued lighting immediately set the mood like a secretive speakeasy that also somehow has a street-facing glass wall. That’s the strange thing about Bar Robo, it seems mysterious but with nothing to hide. Evidence of this can be broken down to the wiring and sound equipment being displayed through Plexiglass across from the bar. “The sound system is also really modern and they brought in Wall Sound to test out the acoustics.” Matias adds, “I think it’ll be the kind of place that musicians really enjoy playing.”
Music, atmosphere and ambiance aside, the number one thing Bar Robo is going to be known for is its cocktails. Finding a beer in the area is not difficult for the motivated, but this place offers something much more. Connor, of former Mello’s mixology fame, is now the genius behind the cocktail menu, and the bar has been raised for other cocktail artists in the area. The menu is comprised of 8-10 cocktails that have a good mix of hard and soft. Some like the Bijoux are sharp and complex, geared toward those in the industry, while others are creamy and light, like the Kowloon Soju which tastes faintly like a Creamsicle without being overbearingly sweet.
The favourite is the Bryan Arrobo, named after the man who had the Twitter handle the bar wanted. It’s the perfect summer drink; a mix of citrus and a hint of cinnamon, they go down far too easily and are a beautiful tropical blue colour. It has also been rumoured that if you can convince Bryan Arrobo to give up his Twitter handle, you can have one on the house.
The final piece of the puzzle is the snacks. Simple and incredibly delicious, the bar offers snacks like Loaded Pork Rinds and Ham & Swiss Pretzels. Snack genius Mike had worked with Connor previously and quickly found they complemented each other perfectly. When owners Allie and Scott went looking for someone to prepare food in their small set-up, Connor knew who to call. The result is simple snack food with a hint of complication, like the Duck Nachos with house-made cheese, pickled peppers and avocado. The one you’ll keep going back for is the Robo Jack popcorn, though, sprinkled with cornflakes, coconut caramel and cheese dust.
Bar Robo is open for cocktail service as of this Thursday, May 19th. Whether it’s in your neighbourhood or just outside it, it’ll be worth the trip to try some of these cocktails and snacks, and maybe take in a show or two. You can keep Bar Robo on your radar by visiting their , or following them on or Instagram.